CHAPTER XIII
THE ITALIAN ICONOGRAPHY

On 3 June 1779 Franklin wrote wittily to his daughter Mrs. Sarah Bache that the wholesale diffusion of his portrait through all kinds of media had made "your father's face as well known as that of the moon, so that he durst not do anything that would oblige him to run away, as his phiz would discover him wherever he should venture to show it."1 One may nevertheless doubt that Franklin would really have had any great difficulty in preserving an incognito in Italy, at least during his lifetime. French- made likenesses did seep down into the peninsula, but they remained in the possession of the intelligentsia and aristocracy; the earliest Italian representations of Franklin in medallion, sculpture, and engraving were not meant for the public. Franklin would not have found it impossible to conceal his identity in the peninsula until the nineteenth century, when the engraver's art combined with the popular press to make his features universally known as those of the creator of Poor Richard.2

The fragmentary information on eighteenth-century Italian interest in Franklin portraiture does not fall into any clear pattern. It appears certain, however, that there was no demand for such portraits until after Franklin's arrival in France at the end of the year 1776 as representative of the American colonies. This new role, conferring upon him ideal qualities as an American, statesman, and republican marvelously congruous with the aspirations of the day, made him a heroic figure whose features could appropriately adorn the drawing room of any person of philosophic pretensions. And as might have been expected, personal factors of one sort or another frequently take precedence over esoteric artistic motives.

In fact, the market for likenesses consisted in good part of Italians who had known Franklin in person and who sought to recapture and perpetuate their association with him through the figurative arts. We have seen that Paolo Frisi shortly before his death asked Luigi Castiglioni to send him from Paris a portrait of his American friend.3 Unfortunately, Castiglioni said nothing about the portrait procured for Frisi beyond that it was the most resembling he could find. Equally exasperating is the lack of information about the "large Portrait of Doct: Franklin" seen by Joseph Carrington Cabell in Turin at the home of Anton Maria Vassalli-Eandi in

-284-

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Benjamin Franklin and Italy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • Illustrations xiii
  • Introduction xv
  • Scientist 15
  • Chapter II Eripuit Coelo Fulmen . . . . 17
  • Chapter III A Scientific Friendship: Giambatista Beccaria 49
  • Statesman 91
  • Chapter V The Practical Diplomat 93
  • Chapter VI Franklin and the American Mirage: The Eighteenth Century 120
  • Chapter VII The Neapolitan Circle 144
  • Chapter VIII Franklin in the American Mirage Of the Risorgimento 167
  • Printer 185
  • Chapter IX B. Franklin Artis Typographicae Decus 187
  • Popular Philosopher 203
  • Chapter X Il Povero Riccardo 205
  • Literature and the Arts 235
  • Chapter XII The Canorous Eighteenth Century 268
  • Chapter XIII The Italian Iconography 284
  • Conclusion 299
  • Notes 315
  • Appendix 365
  • Bibliography of Italian Frankliniana 411
  • Index of Personal Names 441
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